By Jim Langley

I’m from New Hampshire. It’s where I got my first good 10-speed in the summer of 1971. I remember the feeling I had when I got it home. No, not the excitement and anticipation of exploring backroads, but the feeling of dread, as the new-toy glow wore off and I slowly realized I didn’t know a blasted thing about how to take care of it.

Sure, the nice shop guy showed me how to operate the brakes and shifting. I think he even showed me how to remove the front quick-release wheel so that I could stuff it in my grandmother’s Chevy and get it home (I didn’t have my license yet). But I didn’t learn any of the basics of caring for a road bike until I purchased Anybody’s Bike Book and read up on it.

Since you might have just purchased a new road bike (May, June and July being big bike-sales months), I thought I’d go over some basic maintenance it will need. Like Anybody’s Bike Book implied (and implies, since it’s still in print), anybody can do basic bike maintenance. Doing basic maintenance will ensure that your new bike runs properly and keeps running that way.

This week, in Part 1 I’ll go over the tools and supplies you need. And next week, I’ll cover the easy steps to take to keep your new bike running like new.

Basic tools and supplies

All you need are a few things that you can pick up at the bicycle shop. Get a decent bicycle pump for home use, usually referred to as a floor pump, since it rests on the floor and is designed for use at home, not for when you’re out riding (you can put it in your car to take to cycling events, too).

A “decent floor pump” is one that’s easy for you to use. It will have a head that’s easy to attach to your valves, a smooth and not-too-difficult pumping action, quality construction (a good floor pump should last for years) and a nice built-in gauge so you can make sure you’ve got enough air in your tires (the recommended pressure range is written on the sidewalls of the tire).

In the past year or two, we've reviewed a couple of floor pumps that fit the bill:

Pump Tip 1: If you’re not very strong or are short, I recommend asking to try the floor pump before buying it. There are some that aren’t easy to pump, and if you’re not a tall, strong roadie, they can make what should be a simple task, really difficult. You can also just ask the shop people if the pump they’re showing you is easy to use – but I would urge you to try it for yourself if you can.

Pump Tip 2: It’s important also to have a smaller pump that attaches to your bicycle or fits in your seat bag. That way you can fix a flat when you’re riding and always get home. Common types are mini-pumps (called that because they’re only about 6-inches long), frame fits (these spring-loaded pumps are as long as and fit next to a frame tube, and CO2 inflators (tiny cartridges filled with compressed air that fit in the smallest seat bag or even your pocket).

In recent Tech Talks, I discussed Choosing a Pump Head for Easy Inflation (tips on pump choice both for floor pumps and frame or mini-pumps, as well as Tips for Using CO2 Pumps.

Also get some bicycle chain lubricant. This comes in spray or drip containers and is designed to lubricate your chain so that as you pedal and shift there’s minimal wear and tear on the metal drivetrain parts that mesh. It also helps ensure smooth shifting, a nice quiet drivetrain, and prevents rust and corrosion.

Lube Tip: Most shops will have their favorite chain lube based on what works best in their area for them. So you can go with their recommendation. You don’t have to figure it out if they have a wide assortment. Just tell them what bike you have (road bike) and how you plan to use it (how often you ride and whether or not you will ride in the rain), and they’ll recommend a good lube.

You’ll also want some general-purpose drip or spray lube, to be used on the other components of your bike to keep them operating nicely. Some chain lubes will work for lubing the other components, so you can ask the shop guys if you can use it that way or need a separate lube for your parts (chain lube can be pricier than general lubes, so it’s often better to have both).

While you’re at the shop, an inexpensive and very handy tool to have for a road bike is a folding allen wrench set. Most of the bolts on modern road bikes are allen types. These have recessed hexagonally shaped holes that the allen wrenches fit into to tighten or loosen the bolts as needed.

Allen Wrench Tip: Allen wrenches are also called hex wrenches (since they’re hexagonally shaped). You can buy them in sets or individually.

Get a tool that has from 2mm to 6mm sizes and you’ll have what you need should anything loosen on your bike. It’s also the right tool for making seat and handlebar adjustments. Park Tool’s Fold Up Hex Wrench Set will do the trick.

Multi-Tool Tip: Another way to get the allen wrenches you’ll need is to purchase an all-in-one multi-tool. These miniature marvels have all the tools needed to fix common breakdowns on the road, so they can be real ride-savers and ensure you always ride home.

Besides the important allen wrenches, you’ll get a chain tool for fixing a broken link, screwdrivers and sometimes a lot more. Which multi-tool to get depends on how your bike is equipped. Ideally, you’ll get one with the tools to attend to whatever repairs your bicycle and accessories might need on the road.

Finally, pick up a can of spray furniture wax, like Lemon Pledge. And, start saving old T-shirts and worn-out dish towels so that you have a small pile of nice rags for bike cleaning when the time comes.

With these simple supplies, you’re ready. Next week I’ll tell you how to use all this stuff.


Jim Langley is RBR's Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He's the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his "cycling aficionado" website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim's full bio.

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